Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Read Animorphs

There are two possible responses, I figure, from reading that title. The first is wait, what’s Animorphs? In which case I’m reminded that my fear that I talk too much about my interests is in fact, wrong. The other is hey, hang on, Talen, I thought you loved Animorphs, what gives?

What give is that I think that a good idea can stand up to scrutiny, and media is a series of communications between you and the people who made it, and the other people who consume it. The appeal of Animorphs, is, to me, a given: Rather, I think I’d like to be able to seriously make a case for why someone shouldn’t necessarily immediately love this series as I do.

It’s Dated

Know what I don’t ever remember seeing show up in this series? A mobile phone. I don’t remember the word choices per se but I wouldn’t be surprise if Marco used an insensitive word or two for a plan that he thinks is stupid. The internet is a thing the characters reach out to and interact with rarely, like at a school using school computers. Part of how the world works is the paranoia of maybe always being observed, but the enemy has no meaningful way to process all your information and get you.

These are all interesting points of tension, but they are something that becomes very different if you try to bring it forwards, into the now. Recording devices are pretty useful for uncovering conspiracies, and internet resources both present a dangerous vector for surveillance and potential tool for developing a user base, but those are now situations, not 1995 situations.

Some Of The Books Are Dumb

One of the books is about the Animorphs being recruited by two godlike monsters, one of whom is a flaming eyeball from space, to basically play in chess, and they beat the enemy chess piece by making out.

And this is one of the good books.

A number of the books are ghostwritten, which means that they contain stuff later contradicted, because they weren’t focusing on explaining or exploring that. Some of the books that weren’t ghostwritten are still kinda dumb, because there was a lot of stuff being developed for young adult fiction from the 1990s.

Point is, quality is uneven.

It is Dark

This is probably a foregone conclusion if you’re interested in this series that you already know it is pitch dark. The ending of this series is practically a ‘and then the Bolivian Army shows up’ kind of story beat. There’s a lot of great tension and thrilling danger throughout, but this isn’t a story necessarily about everyone getting to sort out this mess and go back to an ordinary high school.

At the root of the kind of world Animorphs is, is the idea that things get changed. There’s not a a return to a status quo, there’s just this neverending, spiralling, ever tightening circles of ‘and now this is normal,’ day after day after day, and the attempts to maintain that wears on our heroes.

It’s Remarkably Shipping-Shallow

There’s some hints at a romance between Tobias and Rachel, which ultimately has reasons to go nowhere (like how in the first book he gets stuck as an actual fucking bird). There’s similar hints with Cassie and Jake, which also go nowhere for different reasons.

Animorphs isn’t a world where romance doesn’t exist, it’s just a world where that stuff is all on the back burner. The characters just plain out don’t have a lot of those moments of socialising, of doing non-threatening, non-tense stuff. They are literally maintaining the facades of their lives, but you can watch the way their adolescence disintegrates through the series of books, and that means a lot of the opportunities for that kind of dialogue are just not happening.

Shippers will make good with whatever, I know, but seriously, this is a series about fourteen year olds having to discuss how to ethically handle their first murders, it is not a crackling hotbed of romantic tension.

Goodness Is Not A Transitive Property

It is entirely possible that you have learned, through the omnidisciplinary context remover that is twitter, that K A Applegate supports trans rights. You may know more than that, having picked up that she has a trans daughter, and she talks about being actively engaged in her daughter’s life. These are all good, admirable things, assuming it’s really happening.

None of that means that Animorphs is any better a series, or a better fit for you. The series was written before that kid was into having opinions, since she was four when the last book was launched. The books are still products of their time, and you’re still looking at a series with a bunch of cis characters with a dusting of hetero romance and also a character who nowadays we’d probably recognise as being agender or nonbinary in a way that wouldn’t raise eyebrows now but which absolutely did not exist in the common discourse back then.

(Note: In the common discourse. Nonbinary people have existed as long as people, as best we can tell.)

Point is, you may think ‘Wow, she sounds great, I’d like to support her because her ethical values seem to line up with mine,’ and that’s cool, but it won’t necessarily mean that you’re going to find the woman she is now in the books she wrote then.

Now, with all that said, do I think you shouldn’t read Animorphs? What? No! I love Animorphs! It’s one of the few things from that time in my life I look back on with nothing but wholehearted fondness, and I think it’d make a great series to revamp and like, mastercut. Hell I kind of wish there was a new resurgence of Animorphs discourse so I could get into arguments on twitter about fake shapeshifting terrorists rather than on someone trying to argue that like, shortalls are grooming or something dumb.

Just, go into it knowing you’re getting what you’re getting. Like me reading my mother’s Enid Blytons, people looking into Animorphs now are going to want to know what it is they’re getting. It’s a tragedy, it’s thoughtful, it’s engaging, it’s cool… and it’s also dark and depressing and disturbing and violent and ultimately ends on an immense downer that is exactly the way it should end.

And that sucks.

And it’s great.